San Diego de Alcalá is the saint of La Ermita, the church at the top of the hill in Tekax. The church was built in 1645 by the Spanish who wished to convert the local Maya population to Catholicism.

The story goes that the Spanish weren’t having much luck with their conversion plans until, handily, a miracle occurred. It is said that the statue of San Diego de Alcalá which normally resided in the cathedral in town, was seen in the well on the hill but quickly disappeared, reappearing again in the cathedral. It then, again, appeared in the well and this was interpreted as San Diego’s desire to have a sanctuary built on the top of the hill.

While this “miracle” has made it into accepted lore, there is another, less well known story that survives only in local legend. This legend of San Diego isn’t found in books or on the Internet (I know, because I tried to find it) but is well known by locals. When I checked back with the guide who shared this legend with me he was clear that this is part of the town’s oral tradition.

According to this local legend, as the town was preparing for the “Bajada de la imagen de San Diego” (The Descent of the Image of San Diego), a small boy, looking for somewhere to take a sneaky nap, crept inside an unlit, but still warm, baker’s oven. While he was sleeping, the baker arrived and began preparing to bake bread for the festivities. Before long, the little boy awoke in the now hot oven and realised he was trapped. He cried out to be saved but the baker could do nothing, nor could the other townspeople who soon realized something was horribly wrong.

 

 

At this moment the procession of San Diego marched past and apparently the saint stepped out of his own procession for just long enough to rescue the boy from the oven. The boy survived and the procession continued on its way to the cathedral on the town’s plaza.

In remembrance of this miracle, the local bakers offer up bread products to the saint, which is why you see him in La Ermita with roscas (bagel-like bread) – real and fake – around his arms. The festival of San Diego is from November 3 – 18, and is celebrated with dancing, fireworks, processions, and more. The main focus of the festival is the “Bajada de la imagen de San Diego”. This is the only time of year that the statue is taken from its home in La Ermita and walked through the town to the main church.

Editorial by Cassie Pearse
Photography by Ralf Hollmann and Óscar Góngora for use in Yucatán Today

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